Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon: God’s economy of Grace

This week the US census bureau reported that the Poverty rate in the United States has reached just over 15%. That means 1 in 6 Americans live off of less than 1,000 dollars a month. This is the deepest level of poverty America has experienced since 1983.
And while the state of the American economy is bad—I want to let you know today—that the state of God’s economy continues to be strong. God’s grace rate is over 100%, God’s mercy level is astronomically high—it continues to stay at the same level as it was at in 33AD.
And today, I want to talk to you briefly about God’s economy of Grace. God’s economy of grace.
Let us pray:
Economies have differed throughout time and from place to place.
There have been economies where stone wheels served as currency and economies that use the barter system.
There are economies that are regulated and economies that are less so.
There are underground economies, green economies, local economies and global economies.
But, one overarching principle is the same throughout, they involve wealth of some kind being traded for a good, service, or idea. If you do this, then I do that.
If you pay Apple 99 cents/then you will receive a song on your I-pod.
If you give the mugger your wallet/then he won’t stab you.
If you work hard on your homework/then you will get an A.

It is not so, however, in God’s economy of grace. Instead of an If/Then economy, God’s economy is a Because/Therefore economy.
A Because/Therefore economy.
Because God is gracious/ Therefore you shall have eternal life.
Because God is merciful/therefore you shall receive mercy.
Because God is slow to anger/ therefore you shall receive continual pardon.
Because God abounds in steadfast love/ therefore you receive God’s love.
Because God is ready to relent/therefore even the most hardened sinner finds salvation.
One of the best images of this economy of Grace is one we say every time we pray the Lord’s prayer. We say, “Our Father.”
Now I know, for some people, Father isn’t an image that jives with grace—but I saw an example of a Father’s grace this last Thursday that I think makes it worth mentioning.
Some of us from St. Stephen were at the Patriot’s baseball game. It drizzled a little, and then got kinda cold. Dale, without missing a beat, took off his sweatshirt and gave it to his daughter Emma. Because he is Emma’s father/ therefore he kept her warm.
For that matter, one of the means of grace—one of the ways we as Lutherans say “you are God’s beloved child,” is in the waters of Baptism.
And I want to tell you, Mom, Dad, Kate. We here on the East Coast have known something about water recently. We know it can be unstoppable—literally a force of nature—we know it finds a way to come in. It doesn’t stop for roofs, for libraries, for trees, or for parks.
Likewise, God’s love—God’s amazing grace—is an unstoppable force. It won’t be stopped by our sins, by our upbringing, by our country of origin, by our wealth, by our poverty, by what other people say about us, by anything!
God loves us unconditionally.
God won’t quit us,
God will never leave us—God loves us even when we don’t love ourselves.
And this is wonderful—liberating—joyful news to hear!

But… what do we do when God’s grace flows toward the heart of every human being? What do we do when God loves EVERYONE as a loving parent toward a beloved child?
What do we do when we realize the Because/Therefore economy isn’t just for me. It isn’t just for you. It isn’t a local economy, it is a global, universal way that God deals with all people!
Even people we don’t think deserve it!

I think there is a tendency to respond to the universality of God’s love, as Jonah did. To say, like Jonah, “Hey, the Ninavites are Assyrians—and the Assyrians dispersed and kidnapped 10 of the 12 tribes, they broke my people. I cannot accept that You God, are going to give them a break. I know that You are merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love—but that’s toward us, Your chosen people—not toward Ninavites!”

Likewise, like the laborers who arrived on time, who served the full day, through the desperate heat of the noon-day sun, who have calloused hands and sun burnt brow,
we grumble, about those late comers—more than that we grumble about the very Landowner who has treated us fairly and generously—because He is now generous to another generation of workers,
to the last as much as to the first.

It reminds me of the book Animal Farm. In it a group of farm animals overthrow their wicked human overseer and then create a new social order at their farm. They create 7 commandments to live by—the last of them being, “All animals are equal.” Yet, as their farm is corrupted by greed and depravity, that last commandment becomes, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
“All Animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
We too, when we, like Jonah and the early laborers, respond with jealousy, we are saying, “God loves us all equally, but some of us God loves more equally than others.”
We are unmasking ourselves. We are revealing that we still buy into the other economy—the If/Then economy. We are saying, “If you are God’s chosen people, if you have labored in God’s vineyards from the start, if you are a good person/then then God will love you.”
But, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we too have fallen short of all those ifs.
We have to admit that we ourselves have nothing to offer God in an if/then economy.
We, just like those who we don’t think deserve God’s grace, have to admit that we too rely on God’s because/therefore economy. God’s gracious love for us.
We admit that we too are like the residence of Ninevah, we so often do not know our right hand from our left. In the ambiguity of life and the limited vision all mortal beings have—we screw up.
We admit that we too are like those workers—bashfully admitting to the Master, “No one has hired us.”
Oh! Think of the pain that rattles around behind those words, “No one has hired us.”
Anyone who has waited, with eager longing, for a job—for a vocation to fill their time and contribute to the world and community they live in—knows how wounded you feel while you wait for work.
We recognize that the If/Then economy doesn’t work because we humans, every last one of us, are out-of-work Ninevites in need of God’s grace, in need of love that is uncompromising and eternal. We need God’s Because/Therefore economy. We need God’s economy of Grace.

And that’s all I want you to know today—the state of God’s economy continues to be strong. Ninevah has been spared from destruction and those workers, who have waited so long for work, have heard the master’s voice saying, “You also go into the vineyard.”